Do you regularly express gratitude? It turns out that an "attitude of gratitude" is not only wise for building positive relationships, but good for your health.
"If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system," Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, expert in brain and mind health.
There are more reasons than you think for expressing gratitude. Beside the positive effects on health, gratitude brings about an increased ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and improves sleep.
Studies have shown that gratitude can produce measurable effects on a number of systems in your body, including:
- Mood neurotransmitters
- Reproductive hormones
- Blood sugar
- Blood pressure and cardiac rhythms
- Stress hormones
- Inflammatory and immune systems
- Cognitive neurotransmitters
If you take your wellbeing seriously, you may want to increase the frequency at which you feel and express gratitude.
The Study of Gratitude
Traditionally, psychologists focused on understanding distress rather than positive emotions. However, with the current focus on Positive Psychology, scientists are now looking at gratitude to understand the experience of the emotion, individual differences in frequency, and the relationship between these two aspects.
One study is looking at the link between spirituality and gratitude. Some have found that those who regularly attend religious services are more likely to have a greater sense of gratitude in all areas of life.
Researchers have also looked at the obstacles of gratitude and found self-absorption and entitlement as massive impediments.
When you are preoccupied with yourself, it is easy to forget your benefits and benefactors.
With an attitude of “I deserve this,” or “you owe me,” or “life owes me,” grievances will always outnumber blessings.
According to Mark T. Mitchell, professor of political science at Patrick Henry College in Virginia:
Gratitude is born of humility, for it acknowledges the giftedness of the creation and the benevolence of the Creator. This recognition gives birth to acts marked by attention and responsibility. Ingratitude, on the other hand, is marked by hubris, which denies the gift, and this always leads to inattention, irresponsibility, and abuse.
Gratitude and Relationships
What actually is gratitude? Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a leading scientific expert, says that gratitude has two key components:
- An affirmation of goodness: When you feel gratitude, you affirm that you live in a benevolent world.
- A recognition that the source of this goodness comes from outside of yourself: You acknowledge that other people (or higher powers) provide you with "gifts" that improve your life in some way.
According to Emmons, gratitude is "a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people."
Gratitude and Health
One area of life that we often take for granted and forget gratitude is health – sometimes until it’s too late.
According to Dr. Mercola, “We tend to take our health for granted until we’re suddenly in the throes of pain or a debilitating illness… If you have good health and all your mental faculties intact, you also have the prerequisite basics for doing something about the less satisfactory situations in your life.”
How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
First, start by cultivating gratitude for the little things, which will foster a more deep-seated sense of happiness. Like a muscle, your sense of gratitude can be strengthened with practice, each time you express it.
Consider creating a personal journal to share thoughts and insights with yourself, all the while helping you move through problems and come to solutions. There are now a number of digital apps that allow you to journal from anywhere at any time.
In his Beginner’s Guide to Digital Journaling, Bakari Chavanu lists his four favorite apps, including Penzu, which allows you to express your most private thoughts by providing password protection (for both your journal and individual entries).
Dr. Alison Chen writes in a recent Huffington Post article that creating a nightly gratitude ritual can be a powerful strategy. She suggests taking a few minutes at the end of each day to stop and reflect, as a great way to bring about more feelings of gratefulness in your life.
Chen’s other suggestions include:
- Write thank-you notes: Whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank-you letters can help you express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
- Nonverbal actions: This includes smiles and hugs, both of which can express a wide array of messages, from encouragement and excitement to empathy and support.
- Mind your please and thank-you’s: While it’s easy to say words like please and thank you in passing, these courtesies can become potent acknowledgments of gratitude when combined with eye contact and sincerity.
Expressing thanks during moments of reflection is another way to cultivate gratitude. Practicing "mindfulness" means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. You can sit quietly and focus on something that you’re grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a memory.
Take a couple minutes each day to stop and reflect. Taking regular pause is an excellent way to bring about more feelings of gratefulness in your life.